Nov. 12, 2004
By Craig Chval
As "The Three Amigos," Frank Stams, Michael Stonebreaker and
Wes Pritchett terrorized teammates, their coaches and opposing offenses
while leading Notre Dame to the 1988 national championship.
Thirteen years later, opponents and coaches are finally safe,
but the trio still terrorizes each other at every opportunity.
"Frank, when did you get out of jail?" bellows Pritchett
into the telephone as he greeted Stams.
"I've got one of those bracelets," responds Stams, without
missing a beat.
"You can saw through those things, you know," offers
"I know, but I'm afraid that they'll put a chip in me next
if I do that," explains Stams.
Stonebreaker, the youngest of the group, explains his decision
to attend Notre Dame.
"Wesley Pritchett was my host on my recruiting visit to Notre
Dame. After spending a weekend with Wes, there was nowhere else in the world I wanted to be," says Stonebreaker, the sarcasm dripping from his voice.
Believe it or not, the Three Amigos hit opponents even harder.
Whether it was Pritchett sending West Virginia All-American
quarterback Major Harris to the sidelines early with a devastating hit
in the Fiesta Bowl or Stams burying USC's Rodney Peete into the turf
while Stan Smagala returned one of Peete's errant passes for a
touchdown, the trio set the tone for Notre Dame's 12-0 season.
To hear the Amigos tell it, their ability to wreak havoc on the
football field was due at least in part to their ability to wreak havoc
off the field.
"The person who was glue, the person who really put it all
together, was Barry Alvarez," says Stams of the '88 Irish defensive
coordinator, now the very successful head coach at Wisconsin.
"Our personalities fit very well with Barry's," elaborates
Pritchett. "He believed that you had to keep the guys loose."
Of course, Notre Dame head coach Lou Holtz wasn't exactly
known for promoting "looseness."
"Lou was a master at keeping you on your toes," says Stams,
"and he had a great complement in Barry."
"Barry let us be ourselves," says Pritchett.
"Our biggest motivation was to keep Coach Holtz away from us
in practice," says Stams.
"If we didn't play well, Coach Holtz would be over on the
defensive side of the ball," explains Stonebreaker.
Presumably, Holtz was working with the offense in practice the
day Stams noticed something out of the ordinary while in the defensive
"I smelled a cigar while I was in the huddle, and sure enough,
I came out of the huddle and there was Pritchett - he had grabbed
(sportswriter) Tim Prister's cigar and was puffing away."
"We had as much fun as you could possibly have on the football
field," says Stonebreaker. "But we knew when to pull in the
"For me, it was the most fun I ever had on a football
field," says Pritchett. "You got to spend four years playing
with a great bunch of guys, and you got to represent your alma mater.
"We had a blast ... and we won."
Winning was something that Stams and Pritchett didn't take for
granted. Each was a fifth-year senior in 1988 after enduring Notre
Dame's 5-6 season as freshmen in 1985.
"Having experienced the hard times, we had a deeper
appreciation for the success we achieved," says Stams. "It was a
pretty good rags-to-riches story."
"That definitely made us appreciate what kind of opportunity
we had in 1988," says Pritchett of Notre Dame's rise in the polls as
the Irish kept racking up wins.
The Amigos were a huge reason that Notre Dame was able to take
advantage of that opportunity and claim its 11th national championship.
Both Stams and Stonebreaker were first-team All-Americans, while
Pritchett also earned All-America mention. Stams was at his best in
Notre Dame's biggest games, as CBS' Notre Dame most valuable player
in the 31-30 win over number-one Miami and as the most valuable
defensive player in the Fiesta Bowl win over West Virginia.
All three went on to play in the NFL, but there was something
special about Notre Dame's magical 1988 season.
"That whole last year was an experience I'll take with me
for the rest of my life," says Pritchett, who has made his mark in the
financial world as a licensed bond trader with Bear Stearns. "The
things we overcome along the way set a precedent for what you have to do
in order to be successful for the rest of your life."
Indeed, between earning spots on NFL rosters to success in the
business world, each of the Amigos has continued to enjoy great
As the youngest of the three, Stonebreaker had the unique
experience of life at Notre Dame without the Amigos. He both missed the
other two Amigos, and drew on their time together during his final
season at Notre Dame.
"All of a sudden I was one of the oldest guys on the team and
it was a different feeling," recalls Stonebreaker, who is back in his
native New Orleans as the owner and CEO of NoBrew, a company that offers
ice coffee and other specialty coffees in customers' homes.
"The best thing about playing with those guys was competing
with each other to get to the ball carrier quickest - it didn't even
matter what the offense was running."
Stonebreaker obviously was getting to a lot of ball carriers in a
hurry during his final season at 1990, once again earning first-team
With the recent birth of Pritchett's son Lawson Kenneth, the
Three Amigos have become the three fathers. Stams dotes over his two
toddlers, Rhiannon and Mason, while Stonebreaker prepares for the day
when he'll be kept busy keeping a future version of the Amigos away
from his daughters, Savannah and Violette.
While family responsibilities have kept the Amigos from getting
together as often as they'd like, they retain their passion for
football - and Notre Dame in particular.
"I watch every game, and I still live, breathe and die with
it," says Pritchett. "And I can't stand it."
Not surprisingly, recent and infamous episodes of victories
opponents taking liberties with the playing field in Notre Dame Stadium
don't sit well with the Amigos.
"Those kinds of things didn't happen when we were
playing," says Stonebreaker.
"They would have been too tired to pull up turf after playing
us for 60 minutes," says Pritchett.
Stams, who currently regales University of Akron football fans
with his football knowledge and wit as a commentator on the Zips'
radio broadcasts, is reminded of some of the extra-curricular activities
the Amigos encountered in their day.
"I remember when you went toe-to-toe with that Miami kicker
near the tunnel in '88," he taunts Pritchett.
"You didn't expect me to take on one of those big linemen,
did you?" responds Pritchett, who backed down from no one in his
As the Amigos trade insults, they plan for a mini-reunion at an
upcoming Notre Dame game. Thank goodness all three are devoted family
men (Pritchett/Megan, Stams/Mary and Stonebreaker/Catherine), so the
women and children should be safe, but when the Amigos get back
together, somebody better lock up the quarterbacks.